Take the Heat & Savor the Salt! You Love ’em or You Hate ’em: Touring the Sriracha Plant & Greber Olive Factory

“Caution: Graber Olives and Sriracha hot sauce are in the same category as stinky French cheese, Brussel sprouts, dark chocolate and red wine. These are not to be consumed by the “beginner”, but are an acquired taste. Starting slowly, experimenting with different types, and seeking the advice of one who is more experienced in these matters is highly recommended.

There is a portion of the population that is very cautions about what they eat. Recall the 1978 TV advertisement for Life cereal, a breakfast option without a single marshmallow or sugary puff, being marketed to kids. A pair of hesitant 3rd graders turn up their noses, each wanting the other to try it first, then gesture towards the “runt” of the group.

What’s this stuff? Some cereal. . . it’s supposed to be good for you!

Did you try it? I’m not gonna try it – you try it! I’m not gonna try it!

Let’s get Mikey (Yeah!) He won’t eat it. . . he hates everything! He likes it!!! Hey, Mikey!

(Voiceover: When you bring Life home, don’t tell the kids it’s one of those nutritional cereals you’ve been trying to get them to eat! You’re the only one who need to know!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgB25WBeBxA

Mikey is not alone; many people live according to strong food preferences.

But can they be won over?

The salty, savory, spicy options on the menu do not appeal to most American children, at least in the last several sugar-addicted decades. Even among adults, falling in love with some flavors takes time, repeated exposure and at least a passing desire to try them out. But when you do fall in love with certain complex flavors, you’ll fall hard! It can be amazingly pleasurable. You’ll start to crave that flavor, seek it out, and convince your loved ones to give it just one more taste.

Perhaps they will come around! Consider the distinct flavor of olives, or the raging hot & spicy sauces many adults smother their food in. . .

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The folks you won’t convince to try just one more bite of spicy food, or one more variety of Mediterranean olive. . . well, they are the folks who cringe at the sight of a Kalamata , comparing olives (generally, and categorically) to salty, sweaty ass, and those who start to sweat as soon as your favorite hot sauce hits the table. Most others will give it a shot, and if you make it out to California they might even be willing to accompany you to a tour of the Sriracha factory or the Graber Olive plant.

Taking a tour of the production facilities, and seeing the production first-hand, somehow increases your appreciation for the process, as well as the final product. At least, one can hope!

Huy Fong Foods, Inc.

Having recently watched a Sriracha documentary, I was enamored with the product, which I’ve only recently been able to appreciate, as my tolerance for hot & spicy foods has increased. I had the opportunity to visit Irwindale, CA and take a tour of the Sriracha facility. It’s a ticketed tour, and was sold out, but I took a chance that there might be some cancelations or no-shows. I was in luck! As it turned out, we had an almost private tour of the factory.

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The twenty-something tour guide, in full makeup, high heels and skin-tight blue jeans was the epitome of professionalism, and displayed impressively detailed product knowledge. We moved through the factory as a small group, trailing behind her, sometimes falling back to snap a photo. The production line can be quite loud, so she gave our tour very authoritatively through a microphone, tethered to a megaphone-style speaker, slung over her shoulder.

In addition to the mechanical tour of the facility, she explained how the David Tran, and Hong Fong Foods, Inc., started  from humble beginnings. . . 

He was quite content just to sell whatever he could produce each day and deliver them to Asian restaurants and markets in his blue Chevy van – often driving as far as San Francisco and even San Diego. Believe it or not, Tran actually hand painted his first hot sauce logos onto that blue Chevy van himself! At that time, little did Tran realize his delectable sauces, particularly the iconic Sriracha Hot Sauce, made from just fresh jalapeño chili peppers, would spread like HOT wild fire… (http://www.huyfong.com/)

As soon as you enter the Sriracha facility you are engulfed by the smell of peppers. Your eyes might start to water a little bit, but if you can’t handle a little spice. . . well, what are you doing there? Oh, that’s right! Perhaps you are that beginner, just building up a tolerance for what is hot, hot, hot! Well, you’ll absolutely find it there!

As I developed my own fondness for Sriracha, I found flaming hot peanuts, started eating spiced-up popcorn, and learned to put hot sauce on my cheesy scrambled eggs. . . spice it up! I travel a lot (clearly), and my hotel’s attempt at eggs comes to life with a little hot sauce. (Okay, I won’t go that far. The chili sauce or salsa I add to my hotel eggs, just like the individual packets of salt and pepper, mask the rubbery blandness of most free hotel breakfasts.)

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What can you do if there’s no Sriracha on site? Check out the Sriracha factory store, and you’ll discover a travel size mini-container, able to clip to a backpack strap with a carbineer, for quick and easy access in “emergency” situations.

There is real dedication to the brand amongst consumers, with Sriracha lovers hanging posters on their walls, and wearing T-shirts around town. Customers are very brand loyal, turning in at night in their Sriracha PJs and eating Sriracha popcorn on family movie night. (The popcorn is amazing! I bought one bag for myself and another to give as a Christmas present; I won’t say who it’s a present for, just in case it doesn’t make it under the tree.)

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So, is there competition? Well, there’s Tabasco, Cholula, Tapatio, and an entire aisle of hot sauces, powered mixes, and chunky salsas at Jungle Jim’s International Market, in Fairfield, OH. Each has a distinct flavor, and fans can definitely taste a difference! It’s a flavor they have come to love, and once you’ve been to the factory you’ll be inclined to at least give it another try!

Graber Olives

On the same visit to California you can easily make a day trip to visit Graber Olives in Ontario, CA. Yum, Olives! You’ll find delicious, flavorful olives that make your mouth water, just thinking about them. A glass of red wine, a cheese plate, and a handful of crackers, and you’ll be in paradise! Well, not everyone feels that way about this tasty treat!

There are, in fact, people who don’t eat olives, and who will tell you they can’t even stand the thought of consuming them. There’s even an “Olive Theory”, brought to light on the TV show “How I Met Your Mother”.  The theory is put to use as follows: “Determining the success or potential success of a relationship by whether one person in the relationship loves olives while the other person hates them.” (Urban Dictionary) This mismatch in personal tastes is thought to be the signal of a “perfect match” in the relationship!

 

You’ll notice that elaborate olive bars have started popping up at your local chain of grocery stores, where you can choose from stuffed, marinated, and pitted varieties. On the tour of Graber Olives you’ll learn that the canned black olives are to be avoided, due to their being picked early and forced to turn black via the application of chemicals. The Graber facility has outgrown its initial space, moving the olive crops some distance from where the olives are processed. What you do get to see is the methods by which olives are sorted, cured in brine, canned and labeled.

Olives, especially the deliciously salty Kalamata olives, have an intense flavor that takes over an entire dish. Even if they are pitted and sliced into small pieces, applied very conservatively, and physically confined to ½ of your pizza pie, the juices can intermingle with the cheese and sauce, spreading their flavor from edge to edge. Chicago-style pizza has so much gooey cheese, and so much wonderful sauce, that the olive haters don’t have a chance of ignoring the olive-tainted flavor in every bite. Olives just are not a topping you can pick off of the pizza, toss into a little pile on the side, and forget about. . . unless you order an “everything” pizza, with enough other flavors to drown out the olive’s contribution.

At the factory, a conveyer belt moves the olives along, sorting them by size. Seeing this brought to mind an iconic I Love Lucy’s episode, with Lucy and Ethel working the out-of-control factory line at the chocolate factory. Fearful of losing their jobs, and falling behind in wrapping individual pieces that come down the line faster and faster, chocolate ends up stuffed into their mouths, pockets, and under their poofy hats. If the chocolates backing up the production line had instead been olives. . . I wouldn’t mind working on that line one bit.

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If you really can’t stomach either Sriracha or olives, it’s still worthwhile to take a tour of the factories. There’s history to be learned. There are lovely tour guides to entertain, educate, and make you laugh. Your curiosity about the horticulture, marketing or the growth of family business will be satisfied. The tours are both free, and there are samples and free giveaways on both tours! Come on, go ahead and give them another try – perhaps your tastes have changed!

Remember Mikey – “He likes it! He likes it! Hey, Mikey!!”

Join me on my next adventure! 

~ Kat

Related Links:

Huy Fong Foods: http://www.huyfong.com/

Sriracha Movie: http://srirachamovie.com/

Graber Olives: http://www.graberolives.com/

Life Cereal Commercial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgB25WBeBxA

“How I Met Your Mother”; olive theory: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAC5yHyObgQ

The Olive Theory (Urban Dictionary): http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Olive%20Theory

“I Love Lucy” Chocolate Scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NPzLBSBzPI

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